Rembembering LEH 83 Years On
With her shingle bob and smart uniform, Judith Costley was one of the first pupils to attend The Lady Eleanor Holles School when it moved to Hampton and opened its doors in December 1937.
Judith (LEH 1937-1950, nee Franklin) is among our most distinguished alumna having represented England to win a silver in the first ever Women’s European Rowing Championships. Next month at the Virtual Alumnae Reunion, on Saturday 3 October, she will join her fellow classmates from 1950 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of leaving school.
Judith was just five when she attended the official opening of the new LEH building on 7th December 1937. The special guest of honour was the Duchess of Gloucester, who declared the school building officially open, and wished everyone who worked and studied there every possible success.
The Duchess was then taken on a tour of the brand new facilities by Head Mistress Nora Nickalls. Judith can be seen second on the left, watching the Duchess as she visited the kindergarten where she placed a spring of white heather from her bouquet into one of the sand castles, saying: "That's for luck, children".
Rowing just wasn’t an option when Judith joined LEH: She says: “At school I was a failure at all games involving a ball. I lacked hand-eye co-ordination probably and regularly got C minus on my report for PE. My lowest point was in the U6 form when I didn’t make the second netball team. There were only 16 of us in the year!”
It was while at University College, London, studying maths and physics, that she first discovered her love of rowing. She was soon representing the university in rowing. Judith was selected to row in the ULWBC first eight in her second year, and remembers racing Reading, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. She was awarded full colours (purples) in 1952 and 1953.
In 1953 the ULWBC first eight, which also included fellow alumna Frances Bigg (LEH 1937-1949, now sadly deceased), was selected to represent England at the third of a series test regattas, this one held in Copenhagen, designed to prove that women could race internationally.
After months of preparation, the final was a three boat race between Holland, England and Denmark. Despite a tricky start, they battled Holland all the way and were just pipped at the post, coming second by 1.4 seconds behind the Dutch crew, but 5.4 seconds ahead of the Danes. Their silver medals were presented by Princess Louise of Denmark.
The success of the event was the final seal of approval needed for the governing body of international rowing, the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron, to decide that Women’s European Rowing Championships should be officially launched the following year. Please see a selection of photos in the gallery below.
Judith’s choice of career meant that she was unable to row when she left university. “After I graduated, I served as an officer in the Women’s Royal Air Force and was posted to deepest Wiltshire with no river nearby, so no more rowing for me,” she says. “I now live in a small village on the River Great Ouse. Every August there is a village regatta, one of the oldest in the country. The school children take part as well as adults. I still like to stand on the bank and cheer them on.”